Paterson, city (1990 pop. 140,891), seat of Passaic co., NE N.J., at the falls of the Passaic River; inc. 1851. Founded in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton and others of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, Paterson was a planned attempt to promote industrial independence in the newly formed United States by harnessing the water power of the falls. In 1792 and 1794 cotton-spinning mills were established. In 1835, Samuel Colt began the manufacture of the Colt revolver. Shortly thereafter the silk industry was established, beginning a silk boom which would earn Paterson the appellation “Silk City of the World.” The iron industry, which initially supplied Paterson with textile machinery, was producing locomotives in great numbers by 1880. After World War I, the aeronautics industry moved to Paterson.

Although the silk industry is gone, textiles and transportation equipment are still made, and there is an apparel industry. Other industries produce electronic equipment, paper and food products, fabricated metals, rubber, and plastics; data-processing services also are important. During the first half of the 20th cent., notably in 1912–13, 1933, and 1936, many bitter strikes arose from bad labor conditions in the silk industry. The city has gradually become an ethnic center, with significant black and Hispanic populations. High unemployment rates marked Paterson in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

Of special interest is the historic district that centers around the roaring Great Falls of the river. The Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (est. 2009) is a unique display of industrial history, with old cobblestone streets and stone bridges; the abandoned houses of workmen and mill owners; and industrial works that include several locomotive factories (one dating back to 1830), the Colt gun factory (1835), and historic spinning mills and waterworks.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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